No.8 Ric Salizzo used to feed the ball off the back of De La Salle College's first XV scrum to a halfback called John Kirwan.

Now Sir John feeds Salizzo ideas which tend to revolutionise the New Zealand sports media landscape.

The pair's latest concept is the "4Playa" app, which is designed to allow fans to "play the game" through their phones and, with apologies to Donald Trump, "make rugby fun again" according to a red Salizzo cap.

More on that shortly…


Sports fans across the last generation will be familiar with Salizzo and Kirwan's contribution to the media canon.

A Thomas Edison-like factory of ideas has been supplemented by talent identification which brought the creative genius of Marc Ellis, Leigh Hart and James McOnie – among others - into our living rooms.

The Good, The Bad And The Rugby was the pioneer, offering a behind-the-scenes insight into the All Blacks' unbeaten 1989 northern hemisphere tour.

Footage from the video, such as Zinzan Brooke getting bossed by a Shetland pony, has become part of New Zealand sports folklore.

"We've always talked about what the future looks like, cared about things with a passion, and been a bit rebellious about it," Kirwan says.

"I'd been on enough tours to realise there was a lot of fun which you could deliver to people in a different medium, which was video at the time."

Sports Café and The Crowd Goes Wild followed, enticing fans into a world beyond the straitjacket of traditional media.

"Sports Café came about because players didn't have a voice," Kirwan says.

"I would sit around the changing room with articulate, educated guys with good senses of humour, and wanted to create a show which brought that out.

"Part of Riccardo's genius is his ability to capture humour. It's an iconic brand which takes the piss out of ourselves."

Salizzo mastered the art of deadpanning on the show, something he insists was driven by fear of the consequences from their sometimes riotous antics.

"My body became acclimatised to being on edge every Thursday [after the show]. I'd be waiting for someone in the supermarket to say something, or someone at the network to call.

"The reaction followed me everywhere. For instance, because I'm Italian, Marc decided I must have a hairy back and backside - which I don't - but I was bending over to fill my car up at Waihi the next day and looked around to find three people watching me.

"They said they were 'just checking'."

Sports Café and CGW both provided a niche market for fans wanting a more irreverent television take on sport beyond the 6pm news.

"But we need them to exist so we can be different," Salizzo says.

"We're going to take the piss, so we've got to have something straight."

"They could never talk about hairy-backed Italians," Kirwan adds.

Such banter is an element the pair want to take to the 4Playa app as a "virtual pub".

"I would be watching the footy at home, and my kids might be watching their phones," Kirwan says.

"I wanted to create something where I can talk to them, compete with them, and engage them in the live game because they [phones] ain't going away."

Salizzo has always appreciated the need for fun in the sport, given his first All Blacks tour as a reporter was the Springboks' visit in 1981.

"I was at Eden Park two weeks after JK suggested the idea, looked around, and everyone was on their phones."

"Creating another fantasy rugby game seemed a lot of effort - and you don't have to watch the game - whereas with 4Playa it takes three minutes to make your picks, and when the game's on there's a constant feedback of points being scored, your ranking going up and down… and regular abuse from JK."

Players on the app get 500 credits to spend picking four players per game on the basis of their skill sets. An army of coders monitor the game statistically and turn players' selections into points which can be monitored live.

"It's not just the All Blacks versus France, but me against JK… and his family," Salizzo says.